Posted tagged ‘Charles Finney’

Charles Finney, Cooperation, and the GCR

November 17, 2009

Over at Between the Times, Drs. Danny Akin and Bruce Ashford have continued their excellent series on “Seven Crucial Aspects of Our Mission” (which is broken down in true Puritan style of multiple sub-points and cases) with an article focusing on cooperation between Calvinists and non-Calvinists.  As you know, this issue has been with us for a very long time, and during the more heated moments in recent SBC life, I was documenting all the events, articles, and commentary that was taking place.

Having been involved in Southern Baptist discourse for the past 6-7 years (I know, I’m young), I would argue that the relations between Calvinists and non-Calvinists is the best that it has been.  The rhetoric and caricatures are rare, and the conversation between those with soteriological differences has increased, especially with the advent of Twitter.  I know it’s crazy, but Twitter as a social-networking platform has interconnected Southern Baptists in a form of internet community that would otherwise not exist in real life.  I’m not sure as to why or how this has happened, but perhaps “following” each other has allowed us to see that those with whom we disagree are not as bad as we think they are.  They love Jesus, desire to honor Him in faithfully preaching His Word, and are genuinely seeking to make a difference for the glory of God.  Having the opportunity to see glimpses into the lives of people who otherwise would be a faceless name or distant interlocutor makes you think twice before lobbing bombs at one another.  We are not enemies.  We are brothers in the trenches seeking to advance the kingdom against our common enemy, the devil.

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Finney and the Regulative Principle

December 13, 2007

We are down to the final hours of the “Ask Anything” deal, and my question on the Regulative Principle is hanging tough (NKOTB style). I appreciate the interest level and thousands of votes that have come in over the past week.

Many of you know that I have been reading a lot of Finney this semester. I have written about some new “new measures” as well as Finney the controversialist. In this post, I want to share Finney’s view of methodology which is an out and out rejection of the Regulative Principle. Historically speaking, the regulative principle has been understood to mean that nothing must be required as essential to public worship except which is commanded by the word of God.[1] Derek Thomas argues that one of the reasons for holding to the RP is to understand that “what makes worship different is that is cultural ethos is determined by scriptural commands and principles rather than personal or collective tastes and mores.”[2] It is important to note that, historically, the RP was not to bind or impose upon worshipers regarding what they can or cannot do; rather, it was quite the contrary. For Luther, Calvin, and the Westminster Divines, it was about the liberty of conscience and freedom of the Christian.

Charles Finney grew up being taught the Westminster Confession of Faith, eventually publicly consenting to it when ordained in the Presbyterian Church. One would think, then, that Finney would be at least sympathetic towards a Scripture-governed view of the church. However, much like his soteriological departure, his view of the church manifested a clear rejection of the authority and priority of Scripture in worship and practice. For us, it is a lesson that theology indeed does drive methodology.

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Finney the Controversialist

December 3, 2007

“Mr. Finney does not pretend to teach a slightly modified form of old doctrine. He is far from claiming substantial agreement with the wise and good among the orthodox of the past and present generation. On the contrary, there is a very peculiar self-isolation about him. Through all his writings there is found an ill-concealed claim to be considered as one called and anointed of God, to do a singular and great work. There is scarcely a recognition of any fellow-labourers in the same field with him. One might suppose indeed, that he considered himself the residuary legatee of all the prophetic and apostolic authority that has ever been in the world, so arrogant does he assume all knowledge to himself, so loftily does he arraign and rebuke all other ministers of the gospel. He stands alone in the midst of abounding degeneracy, the only one who has not bowed the knee to Baal. The whole world is wrong, and he proposes to set them right. Ministers and professors of religion have hitherto been ignorant what truths should be taught to promote revivals of religion, and he offers to impart to them infallible information.”[1]

As I have been studying the theology and influence of Charles G. Finney in recent months, one of the most astonishing observations I have come to discern about him is his hypocrisy. In this article, I want make three points: Finney the Controversialist, Finney the Hypocrite, and Finney’s Legacy for today. On an administrative note, this will be my last article for the time being on the SBC and the controversy of Calvinism. So Let’s begin with Finney the Controversalist.

Finney’s Mission to Demolish

Finney detested the Old School doctrines of divine sovereignty and unconditional election. Moreover, he denied the total depravity or inability of man. Iain Murray points out that “the Memoirs-which deal most fully with the early period of his ministry-portrays him as continually waging a crusade to change the doctrinal standards of the churches.”[2] For instance, “In 1828, he sought to hunt out people ‘from under those peculiar views of orthodoxy in which I found them entrenched.”[3] Finney’s mission, in his own words, was, “Wherever I found that any class of person were hidden behind these dogmas, I did not hesitate to demolish them, to the best of my ability.”[4] In the same vane, Finney writes in his Lectures, “When I began ministering, so much has been said about God’s election and sovereignty that I found it was a universal hiding place for both sinners and the church. They couldn’t do a thing; they couldn’t obey the Gospel. Wherever I went I had to demolish these refuges of lies.”[5] Such a mission in his early ministry dominated him to the point that he confessed, “Much of my labor in the ministry has consisted in correcting these views.”[6] Generations who succeeded Finney would soon realize this major component of Finney’s life, as G. Frederick Wright notes, “Finney has left in literature a permanent record not only of his life, but also of his struggles to adjust the truths of Christianity into such a harmonious system of thought that no violence should be done to the dictates of reason. This, as he often said, was (after that of the actual conversion of souls), the great aim of his life.”[7]

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The Pelagian System of Decisional Regeneration Detrimental to Evangelism, Says Packer

October 25, 2007

More from my studies of Finney, this time from Packer in his “zinger” days of old. Below are three quotes from his book A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan View of the Christian Life (Crossway, 1990). Anyone see a relationship here between decisional regeneration and unregenerate church membership? Of Finney, Iain Murray argues, “The new teaching, by putting its emphasis on instant action taken by an individual following the evangelist’s appeal and not upon a changed life, inevitably lowered standards of membership in evangelical churches and so encouraged an acceptance of worldliness among professing Christians” (Pentecost Today? The Biblical Basis for Understanding Revival, 51). I think Packer agrees. 😉

“While acknowledging—indeed, insisting on—universal depravity in the sense of a constant inclination to sin, he was a clear-headed and forthright Pelagian in his emphatic declarations that everyone is naturally able to turn whole-heartedly to God once he or she is convinced that that is the right, proper, and needful thing to do.” (293)

“If Finney’s doctrine is rejected, such methods are inappropriate to a degree, and actually detrimental to the real work of evangelism. It may be said that results justify their use; but the truth is that most of Finney’s ‘converts’ backslid and fell away, as, so it seems, did the majority of those since Finney’s day whose ‘decision’ was secured by these means.” (294)

“If one tells people that they are under obligation to receive Christ on the spot, and calls in God’s name for instant decision, some who are spiritually unprepared will come forward, accept directions, ‘go through the motions,’ and go away thinking they have received Christ, when in reality they have not done so because they were not yet able to do so. So a crop of false conversions result from these tactics in the nature of the case. Bullying for ‘decisions’ can actually impede and thwart the work of the Holy Spirit in human hearts. When the evangelist takes it on himself to try to pick the fruit before it is ripe, the result is regularly false conversions and hardenings. ‘Quick sake’ techniques in evangelism always tend to boomerang in this way; their long-term effect is regularly barrenness. . . . Finneyism, which seeks to break up the fallow ground, issues rather in a scorching of the earth, a state of diminished rather than enhanced responsiveness to the gospel.” (299-300)

New “New Measures”

October 23, 2007

I’ve been reading some Finney lately, especially his Lectures on Revivals in which he defends his use of “new measures,” viz. the “anxious meeting,” “protracted meeting,” and the “anxious seat.” Finney believed that revival came through the right use of means which a preacher makes effectual the same way a sinner makes conversion effectual (“make for yourself a new heart“). Furthermore, Finney argued that excitement and/or emotional stirring is an appropriate means to bring about the revival he guaranteed would follow (by law of cause and effect). Anyone who would challenge the legitimacy of his “new measures” would be dubbed anti-evangelistic and seeking to quench the Spirit.  Over the course of my life, I have attended numerous “protracted meetings” (revival services) where the “anxious seat” (i.e. altar calls) were used to the evangelist’s advantage. In fact, I have been told by successful evangelists in the SBC that they know exactly what buttons to push to evoke certain responses to guarantee “successful” revival services (much of this was learned by watching famous evangelists such as Billy Graham for example, who by the way, was quite fond of Finney). Having pondered Finney’s legacy and the new “new measures” I have stumbled upon in recent years, I thought I’d mention some that came to my attention.

1. “I See That Hand” or “God Bless You”

This new measure occurs at the close of the service when the pastor/evangelist/revivalist wants a visible sign to know who or how many unbelievers there are in the meeting. With every head bowed and every eye closed, the pastor is the only person privy to see who raises their hands, lifts up their face, stands up, etc. I was informed that an effective way to promote visible responses is to say “God Bless You” or “I See That Hand” when no hands are raised or no one is looking up. The rationale is that doing this frees others who otherwise would not be courageous or bold enough to do it themselves. If a person hears that someone else has raised their hand or lifted their face (when in fact they haven’t), they will be encouraged to do the same.

2. “The Orchestrated Response”

The purpose of this measure is to take away the dreaded fear of being the only one walking down an aisle. What normally happens is that those involved in counseling or pre-selected members in the church would walk down different aisles at different times and stand near the front. This removes the idea of a person being the first or only one moving forward. The pastor/evangelist would sometimes mention that at the moment you take the first step in the aisle, God is moving to save you.

3. “Prayer Request”

Similar to the “I See That Hand” measure, this measure deals with a pastor/evangelist who asks for a visible sign for anyone who would like for someone to pray for them. When a person’s hand is raised, they are asked to come forward to the altar. What occurs next is that they are led to repeat the sinner’s prayer in which they would “accept Jesus into their heart.” Therefore, the “prayer request” measure would result in not someone praying for them but rather the recitation of the “sinner’s prayer.”

4. “Nail It Down”

The “Nail It Down” measure can be found preachers who say that “if feel that you are 99% saved, then you are 100% lost,” making the assertion that “it is better to be saved twice than to be lost once” (I have heard both in revival services). Nailing it down is a term for those who might have made a profession of faith when they were young (say at VBS) but had doubts about their salvation now that they are older. While they may truly be saved, “nailing it down” is a measure used to offer assurance and peace of mind to those dealing with doubt.

5. “Word of Knowledge”

While this measure is more common in charismatic or Pentecostal services, I have witnessed it in several SBC revival services as well. Generally, the revivalist will claim that he has a “word of knowledge” about someone in the meeting, and that the appropriate response would be to heed that word and come forward for salvation. For instance, a young man could be dealing with pornography and has a sexual addition. The revivalist would then apply the pressure with the appropriate “word of knowledge” and move from a flood light approach to a laser beam, pinpointing certain individuals who fit the declaration.

6. “Itinerant Spirit”

Lastly, the “itinerant Spirit” measure is one that says that Holy Spirit is passing through and only here for a short period of time. If you do not come forward and get saved today, you may never get the change again because the Spirit is going to pass you by (assuming you have blasphemed the Spirit). The measure is to excite an immediate and prompt response with the fear that God may abandon you forever if you do not accept Jesus right then and there.

I know that some of you who read these new “new measures” will think I have made all this up. I regret to say that I have not. Others will find this controversial-perhaps as controversial (if not more so) as Finney’s measures in his day. Indeed they are. Not only are they an embrace of his measures, they are a “new and improved” version that, if questioned by anyone, they will be dubbed as anti-evangelistic or critical. Nevertheless, I think it is fair to bring them up, as those who practice such measures, would most likely not be embarrassed to claim them, since, as Finney argues, they are means to accomplish the ends.